Beyond Meat launching in Canadian stores amid race to build a better veggie burger

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Veggie burgers that look, taste and “bleed” like real meat are poised to become a billion-dollar business — and everyone wants a taste of the action.

The U.S. company Beyond Meat just announced it will start selling its plant-based burgers in 3,000 Canadian grocery stores following a wildly successful partnership with the fast-food chain A&W. The burgers will be available in Canadian stores starting on May 1, Beyond Meat said in a news release on Tuesday.

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“Retail is the natural next step for our brand,” Ethan Brown, the company’s founder and chief executive, said in the news release.

Beyond Meat is just one of several companies racing to conquer the growing market for so-called “plant-based burgers” that are meant to stand in for real meat. Annual U.S. sales for plant-based burgers are currently at US$888 million and growing quickly.

The Beyond Burger will sell for C$7.49-$7.99 at IGA, Loblaws, Longos, Metro, Fresh Street Market, Co-op Food Stores, Save on Foods, Sobeys and Whole Foods Market stores across the country, the release says.

Beyond Meat offers several plant-based substitutes for chicken, pork and beef. Many of these products are made with bean protein, beet juice and yellow peas — a special ingredient that it sources from Canada and France.

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The demand for plant-based burgers has been steadily rising in recent years amid concern over the environmental impact of meat consumption. U.S. sales of plant-based meats jumped 42 per cent between March 2016 and March 2019 to a total of US$888 million, according to data from Nielsen. Traditional meat sales crept up by one per cent to US$85 billion over that same time frame.

Most of these new-age veggie burgers are made without gluten, soy or artificial flavours and are meant to cook like a meat burger so that carnivores will find them more appealing.

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“There’s a lot of messaging that plants are powerful,” said Melanie Bartelme, a global food analyst with the consulting firm Mintel.

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Beyond Meat’s Canadian expansion is part of its broader plan to establish a plant-based burger empire. The company partnered with fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. in the U.S. in January, and it’s preparing to sell a stake of the company to the public in a stock offering that would value the entire business at an estimated US$1.2 billion. It’s already secured several deep-pocketed investors including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, former McDonald’s chief executive Don Thompson and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Beyond Meat expects to raise about US$183 million through the stock offering and use the proceeds to conduct research and build out its manufacturing facilities.

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Beyond Meat is one of several companies selling plant-based burgers — the term used to describe these next-generation veggie burgers. Morningstar Farms, Impossible Foods, Nestle and Maple Leafs Foods’ Lightlife are also part of the increasingly crowded field. Many of these brands have already partnered with fast-food joints to sell their products fresh off the grill, while others are selling their meat alternatives in grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada.

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Burger King says 90 per cent of those who buy plant-based meat are actually meat eaters looking for healthier options. The company is hoping to reach those customers with the Impossible Whopper, a specially designed patty that’s currently being tested at 59 U.S. Burger King locations.

“There’s a lot of people who want to eat a burger every day but don’t necessarily want to eat meat every day,” Burger King North America president Chris Finazzo told the Associated Press earlier this month.

Impossible Foods gives its burgers a meaty taste by infusing them with heme, a protein that gives many meat and dairy products their flavour. The company uses yeast to create heme without harming any animals.

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The Beyond Meat burger does not use products from genetically modified organisms, according to its website.

“Beets provide the meaty red hue, peas provide the protein and coconut oil and potato starch ensure mouthwatering juiciness and chew,” the company says.

Canada’s recently revised food guide encourages people to focus more on eating protein-rich foods, including plants, rather than just relying on meat.

With files from the Associated Press and Reuters

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